More than 150 people were arrested at a non-violent protest in San Francisco on Wednesday (3/8), the day after California voters resoundingly approved Proposition 21, the controversial initiative that gives prosecutors much greater freedom to try people as young as 14 as adults.
"People better wake up and see what's going on," one young protester told a KRON-TV news reporter. "I can't vote, but they can try me as an adult," she added.
Most of the 500 demonstrators, who gathered in the lobby of a Hilton hotel, were in their late teens to early twenties. The location was chosen because of W. Barron Hilton's $10,000 donation to the pro-Prop. 21 campaign. "The only good thing that's come out of this is that it has energized young people all across the state," said another demonstrator.
Prop. 21 received was approved by 62 percent in Tuesday's election. In addition to giving district attorneys much greater latitude to try juveniles as adults, the new law creates new crimes for gang-related activity, lowers the threshold for some felonies, opens juvenile court records to possible scrutiny by employers, and contains other provisions that led opponents to dub it the "juvenile injustice initiative."
The projected costs to enforce the new law may well prove onerous to the state and local governments. The report from the state Legislative Analyst found that Prop. 21 will likely incur a one-time cost of $750 million and ongoing costs of $300 million at the state level. The same report predicts that the initiative will cost local governments between $200-300 million, with ongoing costs as high as $100 million dollars each year. The city of Los Angeles, already facing the threat of bankruptcy from the projected costs accruing in the Rampart-LAPD corruption scandal, will share a significant proportion of the financial burden to implement and enforce the new law.
"This is a sad day for California," Kim Miyoshi, spokesperson for the statewide Committee to Defeat Proposition 21, told the San Jose Mercury News. "Voters have chosen to allocate billions of dollars to lock up youth and not one penny for prevention."
Indeed, although the California District Attorney's Association claims that Prop. 21 will "teach at-risk, impressionable youth who can truly be rehabilitated that their actions have consequences," opponents say research shows that the law itself is likely to have unintended consequences. Citing a 1996 study from the RAND Corporation, a Schools Not Jails fact sheet against Prop. 21 notes that "Prevention programs are estimated to be at least twice as effective and significantly cheaper than laws designed to increase incarceration."
But other studies show that incarceration is not simply less effective than prevention; jailing juvenile offenders often results in even greater harm to both young people and society. Research from the Washington, DC-based Justice Policy Institute, which opposed Prop. 21, shows that juveniles incarcerated with adults are at increased risk of being raped and of committing suicide, and are more likely to commit more, and more violent, crimes upon release.
And Prop. 21 is expected to send thousands of California's youngest, newly minted felons to its adult prisons. While current state laws prohibit juveniles from being housed with adults -- a large portion of that one-time $750 million dollar price tag for the state will be spent on building new housing for juveniles at existing adult prisons -- many of the Justice Policy Institute's findings still apply. As the state Legislative Analyst noted in its report, "A number of research studies indicate that juveniles who receive an adult court sanction tend to commit more crimes and return to prison more often than juveniles who are sent to juvenile facilities. Thus, [Prop. 21] may result in unknown future costs to the state and local criminal justice systems."
Web sites with information that contributed to this story include:
Schools Not Jails
Justice Policy Institute
California Secretary of State
elections & voter information
California District Attorney's
Robin Templeton writes an excellent story on the youth movement spawned by opposition to Prop. 21 in this week's edition of Alternet news, online at http://www.alternet.org.